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By Will Korn 

Talking Sports: Youth movement, loss of Durant and George shouldn't deter USA from gold at FIBA

 


The United States men’s national basketball team’s FIBA roster is getting closer to finalization and the squad will play its first exhibition game against Brazil at the United Center in Chicago on August 16.

The U.S will also face off against the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico with both games under the world-famous lights of Madison Square Garden in New York.

There are still four cuts to go to get down to 12 players and these exhibition games will go a long way towards deciding which players will and will not be representing the Stars and Stripes when the preliminary round kicks off on August 30.

The U.S. will be in Group C—based in Bilbao, Spain and it will compete against Finland, Turkey, New Zealand, the Dominican Republic and Ukraine.

Anybody scared of that slate? Nope. It’s actually one of the easier preliminary groups the U.S. has had in a while. There’s not much to fear here. When on its A-game, Turkey could give the Americans a good game but that’s about it.

Taking a look at our roster, USA basketball has clearly decided to opt for a youth movement. Of the 16 players still on the roster, 11 are age 25 or younger. Only guard/forwards Rudy Gay and Kyle Korver are older than 26.

That’s right. The old habit of trotting out the usual parade of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony has been broken. It’s time to let the kids—the new guard of the NBA—shine on the international stage.

Worried about not having enough talent without LeBron or Kobe? Don’t be. There’s more than enough even without the critically injured Paul George and the recently withdrawn Kevin Durant. Really, any one of the guys on the current roster could end up being the team’s leading scorer over tournament.

I really like the makeup of this year’s group. Admittedly, it’s a little heavy with combo scoring guards. Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Korver, Damian Lillard, Derrick Rose and Curry’s Golden State backcourt buddy Klay Thompson comprise half of the roster right now.

Several guys have stretch-four capability, especially Chandler Parsons, Rudy Gay and Gordon Hayward. There’s also a very deep crop of talented big men who play different style games in the post. DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee round out the American roster with different skill sets.

Outside of talent, the single greatest strength of this team is versatility. Three-fourths of this squad can handle the ball on a consistent basis and the offense can be run through almost any player on the team.

There’s shooting galore and elite shooting at that. If this team averages around 15 or more three pointers per contest, I don’t think anyone would be surprised.

Apart from its youth and the usual immaturity and inexperience that typically comes with that, two things concern me about Team U.S.A.

First, it’s lacking a true distributor and facilitator. Rose or Lillard come the closest, but they are still score-first guards. The 2012 U.S. team had Chris Paul—probably the best floor general in the world—directing its traffic and generating a remarkably efficient offense. But this 2014 team lacks a guard like that.

You have to wonder if there might be too many score-first.shot-heavy guards on this roster. Rose, Irving, Lillard, Thompson, Curry, etc? Here is where a team can show symptoms of the “there’s only one ball on the court at a time” disease that has plagued U.S. teams—staring at you, 2004 Olympic team—in the past.

The other concern I have is on-ball defense. It’s entirely okay for us to come out of our shells for a minute and realize the rest of the world is really improving in this sport. In fact, that’s a must if this team is to continue to be as successful as it has. That doesn’t mean that we can’t improve ourselves along with them. But it does mean that we have to show a little more respect than we used to because the number of NBA players on some of the other world teams is steadily increasing.

Plus, the rest of the world is starving to take the U.S. down in the one major sport it still dominates on a global stage. For many countries that is motivation enough and the fact remains that the games have to be played, no matter who is on the court.

This leads to the question: does this roster have enough guys—or anyone—who can truly be called an elite perimeter defender? Not particularly. Korver has been known as a defensive pest in the past but he is aging. George was that guy. His defense cannot currently be replaced with but maybe a small handful of other American players. But it doesn’t appear that anyone from the outside with that ability will be brought on to the roster this late in the game.

Remember that Davis will be patrolling the paint and he has become a perennial Defensive Player of the Year threat in just two seasons in the NBA. The rest of this team should be athletic enough to force the opposition to drive in the direction of the trees in the middle. What is lacking in defensive technical prowess is gained with athleticism and team speed that can really show off in transition after steals.

And at the end of the day, what other national team can boast a sensational coaching staff fronted by Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim? Having those two masterminds on the bench is a great advantage in and of itself.

I fully expect Team U.S.A to win its fifth FIBA gold medal this September. This is a very young group and so there will likely be a few challenges from the usual contending teams like Spain, Argentina and Turkey. The Americans might even lose a game. Unlikely, but possible with as young as they are.

Still, the NBA is the best basketball league in the world by several miles and the vast majority of its players are American.

Let’s take care of business, gentlemen. Let’s bring home our fifth FIBA gold.

 

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